Question: May one recite holy words (words of Torah, prayer, or blessings) in a room with a bathtub or shower in it? Similarly, may one listen to holy songs or Torah lectures in such a room?
Answer: There are two primary points which must be addressed: Firstly, whether or not one who is bathing and therefore undressed may speak or hear words of Torah. The second issue is whether or not a room which houses a bathtub or shower is classified as a place where speaking or thinking words of Torah is forbidden.
“So that He Shall Not See a Shameful Thing Among You”
Our Holy Torah states, “So that He will not see a shameful thing among you.” Our Sages in the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (23a) expound this verse to mean that one may not utter words of Torah while undressed. Thus, one surely may not speak words of Torah while bathing and the like since one is undressed. This applies, however, only to speaking words of Torah; however, thinking words of Torah is not prohibited just because one is undressed, for the verse specifies “a Shameful Thing” which connotes that only speaking words of Torah will be prohibited in this situation but thinking them will be permitted.
The Law Regarding a Room Housing a Bathtub
Nevertheless, we must entertain this question from another perspective. Just as one may not recite words of Torah and other holy words while undressed, so too, one may not speak words of Torah in places that are not respectable, as the verse states, “and your camp shall be holy.” Surely one may not speak words of Torah in a place which is actually filthy, such as a restroom or bathhouse. In such places, even thinking words of Torah is prohibited. We must therefore determine if a room housing a bathtub or shower is halachically tantamount to a restroom or bathhouse and even thinking words of Torah will be prohibited in it or perhaps its law will be different since it is cleaner.
The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (10a) quotes a Baraita which states that one who enters a bathhouse (the bathhouses in those days consisted of three rooms: an outer room where everyone was dressed, a middle room where some were dressed and some were not, and an inner room where everyone was undressed), in the place where everyone is dressed one may recite Keriat Shema, pray (Amida), and don Tefillin. Where everyone is undressed, one may not speak words of holiness and one may not even greet a friend using the word “Shalom,” for this is a nickname for Hashem.
Regarding the middle room where some people are dressed and some are not, Rabbeinu Nissim in Masechet Avodah Zara (44b) writes that even though one may not speak words of Torah there, one may nevertheless think words of Torah there. Additionally, one may render a halachic ruling there by exclaiming “permitted” or “forbidden” without explaining the reason behind this, for this is also considered only thinking words of Torah.
The Rashba writes in his responsa (Volume 7, Chapter 418) that the reason why people customarily make the blessing when immersing their utensils in the Mikveh although we have explained that one may not even say “Shalom” in a bathhouse is because saying “Shalom” or speaking words of Torah is only forbidden in a place where the water is hot and thus the place is considered “soiled” and steamy. However, in a bathhouse where the water is cold, speaking words of Torah is permitted. We may infer from the words of the Rashba that the primary reason for prohibiting speaking words of Torah in a bathhouse is not because people are undressed there; rather, it is because of the grime usually associated with a place where there is hot water and people bathing there. Thus, in a place where the water is cold and there are no people at the present time, one may even recite the blessing of “Al Tevilat Kelim” (the blessing for immersing new utensils in a Mikveh).
The Law Regarding our Shower Rooms
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Responsa Yabia Omer Volume 5, Chapter 11) writes at length about this topic and proves that the main prohibition of reciting words of Torah in a bathhouse is only because of the filth found there. He also proves that a halachic difference exists between a public bathhouse and a private one. He rules there that our shower rooms (nowadays) can be halachically classified as “the middle room” mentioned in the Gemara. This means that one may not speak words of Torah in today’s shower rooms, however, one may think words of Torah in them. Based on this, one may in fact bring a radio into a room that houses a shower or bathtub and listen to words of Torah or holy songs even while showering, for we have already explained that just because one is undressed does not mean that one may not think (or hear) words of Torah. Only actually saying words of Torah will be prohibited there, whether one is dressed or not.
Summary: Regarding a room that houses a bathtub or shower nowadays, one may not recite any words of holiness in it. One is permitted, however, to think words of Torah in it and may therefore listen to a Torah lecture or holy songs from the radio and the like there.
Note: Obviously, the aforementioned Halacha applies only to a room that houses a bathtub or shower alone; however, if there is a toilet in the room, one may not even think words of Torah there.